GLASGOW City Council (GCC) launched its People Make Glasgow Communities (PMGC) programme in February this year, proudly declaring the scheme as a “call to action” to empower Glaswegians in the running and development of their city.

A most laudable and worthy ambition, yet how much of that statement was true in practice? Allow me to provide some forensic analysis as I unravel a most curious thread.

At the time of launch the council said: “Glaswegians, community groups, organisations and entrepreneurs are being offered the opportunity to play a greater role in the delivery and management of local services, buildings and facilities, to better meet the changing needs of their neighbourhoods, as part of Glasgow’s mission to empower communities.

“The call to action will use the city’s world-famous brand to encourage expressions of interest from organisations and groups across Glasgow. This work builds on the strong foundation of the City Charter in its aims to give more control to people and communities over the important decisions that affect their lives.”

Why you would need a world-famous brand to persuade local people to be interested in their own communities is beyond me but let’s stick with this premise. What is the PMGC programme? In short, it’s an asset transfer scheme whether by leasing or selling land or buildings in the city to a third party.

The most surprising aspect of the PMGC scheme is that it’s open to anyone not just community groups. Those “organisations and entrepreneurs” in the GCC launch statement can be private individuals or entities. Just how the transfer of a publicly owned asset to private interests will “empower communities” is anyone’s guess.

The PMGC programme is a voluntary scheme, created by GCC under its own rules and general powers derived from local government legislation in 1973. Why is this curious? In 2015, the Scottish Parliament passed the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act (CESA).

Part Five of CESA gives community bodies a statutory right to request the lease or purchase of a community asset. Under CESA, councils must publish a list of all of their land and buildings – excluding things like roads, canals, social housing and other operational property.

Community transfer bodies (CTB) under CESA include a Scottish charitable incorporated organisation, a community benefit society or a company that will ultimately pass its assets to a charity or other CTB.

In all cases each community body must have no fewer than 20 members. In other words, CESA is about empowering genuine community representative groups and excludes wholly private or commercial propositions.

CESA provides for a statutory scheme whereby community bodies have rights of appeal against council decisions, with the asset transfer scheme being set out in regulations and supported by statutory guidance. All of this law came into force in January 2017 – so this isn’t new.

It’s important to note what Scottish Government statutory guidance on Part Five of CESA says: “The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 moves forward from this voluntary approach by the public sector, and introduces a right for community bodies to make requests to all local authorities, Scottish ministers and a wide-ranging list of public bodies, for any land or buildings they feel they could make better use of. Community bodies can request ownership, lease or other rights, as they wish.

“The act requires those public authorities to assess requests transparently against a specified list of criteria, and to agree the request unless there are reasonable grounds for refusal. This shifts the balance of power clearly towards the community body, and ensures that asset transfer is available throughout Scotland.”

Some questions need answered. Why create a voluntary PMGC scheme when you could have promoted one based entirely upon CESA? As the Scottish Government says, a scheme based on CESA shifts power to community groups.

Why use half a century old powers to create a general scheme open to private sector interests instead of modern legislation expressly designed to empower community bodies?

Those of a sceptical persuasion might suggest the PMGC programme is designed to off-load community venues that Glasgow Life no longer wishes to manage to save costs. That’s a legitimate aim in law, so why dress it up as community empowerment?

Community groups across the city have a significant number of legal rights under CESA to actively participate in local community planning. If we are going to be serious about community empowerment local people need to seize their statutory powers.

As regards to the transfer of publicly and democratically owned community assets to private interests, Glasgow community groups have the power to block such transfers under Section 84 of CESA by making their own asset transfer request.

CESA outranks the PMGC programme; local community groups have more power than they might realise.